THE QUESTION Found in an array of foods, antioxidants are thought to help prevent cell damage that, among other things, can have a negative effect on the heart. Might antioxidant consumption, then, alter the likelihood of having a heart attack, at least among women?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 32,561 women, 49 to 83 years old (average age, 61), who were generally healthy and free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Total antioxidant consumption was calculated from the women’s diets, reflecting not only the antioxidant content of foods but also their synergistic effects and differing rates of absorption by the body. During a 10-year span, 1,114 of the women had a heart attack. Those who consumed the most antioxidants were 20 percent less likely to have had a heart attack than those who took in the least. Overall, most antioxidants (44 percent, on average) came from fruits and vegetables, and women with the most antioxidants in their diets ate about seven servings of fruits or vegetables daily, nearly three times more than women who had the lowest antioxidant levels. Other common sources of dietary antioxidants were whole grains (18 percent of diets, on average), coffee (14 percent) and chocolate (4 percent).
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Women. Each year, more than a half-million women in the United States have a heart attack. Women tend to have a heart attack at an older age than do men, and are more likely to die from them.
CAVEATS Dietary data came from the women’s responses on questionnaires. Antioxidant calculations did not include the content of supplements. Women with the highest antioxidant levels also consumed less fat and were less apt to smoke, which may have affected the results. Whether the findings apply to men remains unclear.
FIND THIS STUDY October issue of the American Journal of Medicine.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.